Alice Cooper on playing live, metal fans and golf

Alice Cooper's new DVD finds the singer parading his array of snakes, midgets, nurses and gullotines in front of a 80,000 youthful metalheads at Germany's famed Wacken Festival. We caught up with Alice and asked what it was like to play for such an audience.

“One of the unique things about doing Alice Cooper in front of a young heavy metal crowd is that they’ve heard the legend from their parents, or just from being in rock,” says Cooper.

“I think we knocked the crowd back a little bit on their heels, because you know what to expect at a heavy metal show: it’s gonna be four guys up there, all in black, pounding away at their guitars and it’s a certain style of music that is similar, similar, similar. Then, all of a sudden, you get this rock show, and it kind of kicks the young guys back… like, ‘What was that?’ I mean, the guitar players are loud, but it’s not metal, it’s hard rock. There’s a couple of songs like Feed My Frankenstein that are definitely metal, but seeing a hard rock show — with all the theatrics — took them aback. The entertainment really worked. They loved it, but I don’t think they were expecting it.”

The British establishment had a big knee-jerk reaction against Alice Cooper. Did you get the same thing in Germany? Or has Germany always ‘got it’?

“We had that in every country. In the Mary Whitehouse days and Leo Abse [MP who objected to Cooper’s stage show, describing it as ‘concentration camp culture’] days, we couldn’t get anywhere. When we came into town we were fighting every establishment there was. Which made it work — that was the idea of it.

“Then when everybody saw the show it was a whole different thing. Everybody went, ‘Well, that was really cool.’ Back then, there was no internet, and everything was urban legend. So it all got so blown out of proportion. And you know, if I were Mary Whitehouse I’d probably have done the same thing! But they changed their minds when they saw there was a sense of humour behind it, saw that it was cleverly done, and that the music was the whole teeth of the show.”

You said at the Raise The Dead show that it’s conceived as a three act musical, equal parts comedy and horror. Has there always been a comic element to the Alice persona?

“Absolutely. I don’t think a villain is worth his salt unless there’s some comedy to him. He can be cool and dark, but every once in a while he’ll need to slip on a banana peel. For me, there’s a little Clouseau in everybody, and I like the idea that I make Alice look arrogant and absolutely impossible to faze, and then he gets fazed, right in front of the audience.

Have you ever considered going the whole hog and writing an Alice-based musical theatre production? Or even taking the leading role in the work of someone else, like Sweeny Todd?

“I’ve been offered a couple of things, and I was just very honest about it and said, ‘I have a rock and roll voice. I don’t have that Broadway voice that you’re looking for.’

“I could take an Alice Cooper show, like Welcome To My Nightmare, which was designed to be a Broadway show, and put that on Broadway as it is right now and it would work. I wouldn’t water it down like they did with Tommy. They watered it down so that it would appeal to farmers in Iowa who were coming to New York to see a show. When you think about it, if you’re 70 years old now, you were a Beatles fan or a Rolling Stones fan: you weren’t a Sinatra fan. You could go to Broadway with hard rock and it would work. You don’t have to water it down.

These days there can’t be an audience in the world who aren’t glad to see Alice Cooper, but has there ever been a time where you completely bombed?

Early in the career there was a time when we would get on stage with all this energy and all this darkness and all of this fun and everybody would look at each other and kinda go, ‘Am I supposed to applaud now? I really like it, but I don’t want to look like I like it!’ Later on they got it and then it was okay to applaud for Alice and to cheer for him. But there was a period of time when people would look at you and go, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ if you applauded for Alice.

One of those Springtime for Hitler moments?

It was exactly that! We’d look at the audience and there was just all of these mouths open, and that’s what I used to compare it to. I would say, ‘we’ve got the Springtime for Hitler audience tonight!’”

Have you ever been tempted to hang up the noose for good and opt for the quiet life? Surely the call of the golf course must be really loud when you’re pulling on the straight jacket for the hundredth time on the tour?

I play golf every morning and then I get hung every night. The two never meet. My guitar player and my bass player both play golf and in the mornings we’re out playing the best golf courses in the world, and we’re really dedicated to playing as good as we can. That night, on stage, we couldn’t be further away from golf. There’s not even a thought of it. So, those two worlds do exist and they do harmonise with each other… as long as they don’t touch each other. I guess the stage is good exercise for the golf course.

Raise The Dead - Live From Wacken is out now.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.